Annals of Science 72 (3):381-400 (2015)

Marij Van Strien
Bergische Universität Wuppertal
During the period 1860-1880, a number of physicists and mathematicians, including Maxwell, Stewart, Cournot and Boussinesq, used theories formulated in terms of physics to argue that the mind, the soul or a vital principle could have an impact on the body. This paper shows that what was primarily at stake for these authors was a concern about the irreducibility of life and the mind to physics, and that their theories can be regarded primarily as reactions to the law of conservation of energy, which was used among others by Helmholtz and Du Bois-Reymond as an argument against the possibility of vital and mental causes in physiology. In light of this development, Maxwell, Stewart, Cournot and Boussinesq showed that it was still possible to argue for the irreducibility of life and the mind to physics, through an appeal to instability or indeterminism in physics: if the body is an unstable or physically indeterministic system, an immaterial principle can act through triggering or directing motions in the body, without violating the laws of physics.
Keywords conservation of energy  vitalism  instability
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DOI 10.1080/00033790.2014.935954
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References found in this work BETA

The Rise of Physicalism.David Papineau - 2000 - In Carl Gillett & Barry M. Loewer (eds.). Cambridge University Press.
Causation as Folk Science.John Norton - 2003 - Philosophers' Imprint 3:1-22.
Causation as Folk Science.John D. Norton - 2003 - In Huw Price & Richard Corry (eds.), Philosophers' Imprint. Oxford University Press.
Nineteenth Century Cracks in the Concept of Determinism.Ian Hacking - 1983 - Journal of the History of Ideas 44 (3):455.

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Einstein׳s Physical Strategy, Energy Conservation, Symmetries, and Stability: “But Grossmann & I Believed That the Conservation Laws Were Not Satisfied”.J. Brian Pitts - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 54:52-72.

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